PREVIOUS, 6:59 AM: A week and a half after ending his stint on NBC’s Late Night with record ratings, Jimmy Fallon last night began his Tonight Show hosting gig in strong form. The midnight premiere of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon drew a sturdy 7.1/20 in overnight metered-market results. That’s tied with the 7.1/17 metered-market rating that Conan O’Brien pulled on June 1, 2009 when he began his short-lived run as host. (UPDATE 11 AM: The final numbers are in, and last night’s Fallon debut actually edged O’Brien’s opener in total viewers, 11.31 million vs. 9.17 million. Among adults 18-48, the two were tied at a 3.8 rating)
Fallon’s debut is also up from the 5.4/14 metered-market rating that Jay Leno garnered on March 1, 2010 when he returned to fronting the venerable NBC franchise after O’Brien’s brief stint. Leno’s return received a 1.6 rating among adults 18-49 and was watched by an audience of 6.67 million. Late night rivals David Letterman and Jimmy Kimmel were far behind Fallon last night with both having metered-market ratings of 2.0/5.
Not unexpectedly, Fallon’s premiere is down (23%) from the whopping 9.2/22 ratings result that Leno’s last Tonight Show got on February 6 – that was the best the show had done since March 19, 2009, when President Obama appeared on the show as the first sitting president to do a late-night program. Overall, Fallon’s debut last night was tied with O’Brien’s premiere for the second best overnight metered-market results since March 29, 2009 when Leno left for the first time and got an 8.8/20. We’ll update with final The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon numbers when they come in later.
However, with guests Will Smith and U2, his longtime house band The Roots, plus a phalanx of celebrity cameos from Robert De Niro and Kim Kardashian to Fallon’s former SNL Weekend Update co-host Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert and more, the new Tonight Show host’s debut easily surpassed his Late Night With Jimmy Fallon launch back in 2009. That March 2nd, Fallon got a 2.3/8 result in metered markets with a 1.2 in the key demo and 2.86 million viewers.
Starting in its temporary slot of midnight (Fallon’s Tonight Show moves to its regular 11:30PM on February 21), last night’s debut was partially fuelled by rising Olympics results as NBC had hoped. After hitting ratings lows for the Sochi Games on Valentine’s Day and Saturday and then rising to a 13.2/21 meter-market rating for Sunday, NBC’s primetime coverage on Monday night snagged a 14.6/22 result – its best since the 18.5/30 of the Opening Ceremony on February 7. Which goes to show you what the return of Bob Costas to hosting duties and a first time U.S. Gold medal for ice dancing thanks to Meryl Davis and Charlie White.
With reports from 55 of the 56 metered-markets and coming right after NBC’s broadcast of the Sochi Olympics’ Opening Ceremony, Fallon’s final Late Night received a 4.8/12 rating on February 7. Eclipsing the previous high of 4.6/15 after Leno’s last Tonight Show the night before, that’s was the best the former SNL cast member’s show has done since its March 2, 2009 debut.
In terms of putting Fallon’s debut in greater Olympics context, there really is no apples-to-apples. Leno’s 2010 return occurred the day after the Vancouver Games had concluded on February 28 that year. Otherwise, the best Tonight Show Olympics results of the last few years were Leno’s departure on February 6, the day of NBC’s bonus day Sochi primetime coverage.